My adopted hometown of Trenton, N.J., made national and international news last week for all the wrong reasons when it was reported that a 7-year-old girl was gang raped. In response, on Saturday, April 10, Russell Simmons, Al Sharpton and several other celebrities will converge on Trenton to deliver a message of non-violence. With a month to go in Trenton's mayoral and city council elections, the horrific crime lends itself to being politicized. In fact, one of the mayoral candidates is involved in organizing the rally, so it's easy to see why some here in Trenton are skeptical of the event.
Though a thoughtful person has to ask what good will a rally do for the victim, as a resident and a father of two young girls, it's hard to criticize or question people's motives after such a heinous act. I understand the need to process this and to try to make some sense out of something that appears to defy explanation.
My argument isn't with the rally as much as it is with the idea of a rally masquerading as a solution to Trenton's problems. Over the last 20 years or so, I've grown disillusioned with what I call "event-driven" leadership in the black community. So while I'm trying hard to believe that something substantive will come out of this rally, history doesn't support my effort to suppress my skepticism. Remember Jena Six? The outpouring of support for those young men was no doubt beautiful, but can anybody tell me the high school graduation rate of black students at Jena High School is? How many go on to college?
I understand that on some level I'm making an apples and oranges comparison, but fundamentally the question is simply this: "Will Trenton be better off after the April 10 rally?" I ask this question not to call anybody's sincerity into question, but rather to point out just how mediocre and pedestrian our group responses to serious issues have become. When Simmons, Sharpton and Company come to Trenton, what will they know about the city? Will they know that just a few weeks ago a newly elected Republican governor eliminated the $43 million the state gives to Trenton each year as municipal aid and payment in lieu of property taxes since Trenton is the Capital City? Do they know that because of these cuts property taxes could be raised to a level that makes it hard for people to maintain ownership of their houses? Or that Trenton runs the risk of not being able to have after-school programs for our children? These issues are all pertinent to what happened to that 7-year-old girl.
Maybe this rally will be a launch point to discuss a comprehensive plan to tackle many of Trenton's woes? Maybe. Somehow, I don't think that will be the case. I hope I'm wrong.
Roland Laird is the author of Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans, and co-founder of My Image Studios (MIST) in Harlem, N.Y.